Police Reform + Public Safety

Now is the time for real police reform in Minneapolis, not incremental change...

Being a police officer is one of the most difficult jobs in the world. They risk their lives every day to keep the rest of us safe. I fully support our public safety officers.

 

It’s also appropriate to hold our officers to a high standard. I don’t support abolishing the police, but it’s past time for substantial change at MPD. If this isn’t the time to have a real conversation about police reform, when will it happen? 

 

For many people all over the world, the murder of George Floyd in 2020 started a new conversation about the widespread effects of police brutality in America. However, this conversation isn’t new to us in Minneapolis. The families, friends, and neighbors of Terrance Franklin, Jamar Clark, Philando Castile, and the many others who have been killed by police officers in our community, have been asking for change for years. And, in July of 2017, the killing of Justine Ruszczyk Damond hit close to home for us in Ward 13. 

 

The day after Justine was killed, Council Member Palmisano delivered a statement at City Hall, saying, “I am moving beyond sadness and I am angry. I will be pushing for fundamental changes in our police department from top to bottom, and I ask you as my colleagues to join in these efforts.” Yet, after four more years in office, she has failed to deliver any significant reforms that would have prevented Justine’s death.

 

Council Member Palmisano has failed to treat police reform with the urgency it deserves. Her campaign has stated that she is leading on the issue by convening a workgroup to address the dangers of off-duty police work, yet she has rarely scheduled meetings, postponing them for months. The council has otherwise conducted its full range of duties remotely throughout the pandemic—there is no excuse for further delays.

 

The status quo hurts taxpayers. Roughly $1 out of every $3 spent by the City of Minneapolis goes to Police. Over the past five years, the City of Minneapolis has paid out over $50 million in police misconduct settlements. This includes the recent $27 million settlement for the killing of George Floyd, as well as the $20 million for the 2017 killing of Justine Ruszczyk Damond. This is additional taxpayer money spent on top of the regular MPD budget, which takes up more than one third of our annual General Fund.

Properly Defining Public Safety is About Redefining the Role of Our Police...

According to a study cited on Council Member Palmisano’s campaign website, at least 10% of 911 calls could be handled by someone other than sworn officers. I supported the recent Safety for All plan that reallocates 4.4% of the Minneapolis Police Department budget to fund mental health teams and other programs. It’s unfair to police officers to ask them to also serve as mental health professionals, and we could better serve those in crisis by changing our approach. Council Member Palmisano’s promises rarely result in action.

Our incumbent council member has frequently obstructed progress on issues that she claims to support.

  • She says we need fully funded violence prevention programs, but she opposed budget proposals that prioritized them. Instead, she has proposed using one-time funds that would make it harder to offer job security to violence prevention workers, setting pilot programs up to fail due to a lack of sustainable funding.
  • She says she supported studying 911 calls to develop a mental health co-responder program, but ignored the study’s key findings. The study recommended sending EMTs and mental health professionals, not armed officers, to situations where there was no risk of a weapon being used by the person in crisis. Yet, Council Member Palmisano still advocates for mental health professionals to be accompanied by armed officers. This plan doesn’t reduce MPD’s workload, and it doesn’t ease a person’s fear of an armed response when deciding whether to call 911. 
  • She says that she wants to transform our public safety system. However, without creating the new Department of Public Safety, the City Council does not have any power over MPD’s policies. We have considered giving the council this power in the past, and Council Member Palmisano voted against it.

Our Current System Isn't Keeping Us Safe.

It would be much simpler to change the way we police the city if criminal activity would pause while we have the discussion, but that’s not reality. Minneapolis, like most other large cities over the past year, has seen an uptick in crime. 

 

The March 4th Minneapolis Police Department Review of Crime Trends report showed year-to-date carjackings are up 209% in 2021, and that 70% of carjackings this year have taken place in the Third and Fifth Police Precincts (South and Southwest Minneapolis). 

 

In an effort to better combat carjackings, MPD teamed up with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office in December of 2020, but that effort has so far yielded very few results. Days of helicopter surveillance led to only a handful of cases being referred to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office (and none of those were for carjacking).

 

If there were greater transparency and oversight over policing in Minneapolis, there would be more opportunities to leverage innovative technologies. For example, an improved traffic camera system could digitally pursue carjacking suspects without the danger of high-speed chases.

 

Currently, as set out in the city charter, the City Council has no authority to set policy for the Minneapolis police. The MPD is under the unilateral oversight of the Mayor, who has much less time and ability to listen to the needs of residents. When you elect someone, you should expect that they have the power to make change. Council members should be pushing for the power that will allow them to give Minneapolis residents the voice they deserve in our conversations about public safety reform.

 

I support the proposed charter amendment to create a new Department of Public Safety. The new structure proposed by the charter amendment would more closely align with how the State of Minnesota manages public safety, and how Minneapolis manages every other city department. It will reorganize police, 911, road safety, emergency management, and violence prevention professionals into one department led by an apolitical Commissioner of Public Safety. It will also give the City Council, and all the Minneapolis residents they represent, the ability to help shape our public safety system.

We Should Be Focused on Violent and Property Crime, Not Petty Drug Use.

We, as a community, should have a say in what we want to police. Because resources are limited, we should focus our policing and prosecution efforts in areas that will do the most societal good. We should address violence, organized crime, and burglary instead of minor drug offenses.

 

Historically, arrests for drug possession have disproportionately and unfairly impacted communities of color. While Minnesota has made some effort towards decriminalization for petty offenders, Minneapolis could be doing more to ensure policing resources aren’t wasted on minor drug offenses. For instance, cities like Denver and Oakland have already decriminalized possession of psilocybin mushrooms.

 

Ticketing or arrests for minor crimes like drug possession and solicitation often have the effect of criminalizing medical and economic issues like mental illness, addiction, and homelessness. Giving fines or jail time to people who are struggling and have no ill-intent does not help them or our community. Other cities have successfully saved money and helped more people access social services by sending other skilled professionals to respond to these situations.